A barefooted little boy is holding another child in his arms, looking curiously at people walking around the tents. Some are queuing for food, some are busy making new shelters. Although there are so many children around, no one is playing or laughing. Someone is making an announcement on a microphone – apart from that, there is a strange silence in the air in the refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh.
The boy tells me his name is Mostafa, he lives with his family in a nearby tent. In the tent, Mostafa’s mother Nurussaba is feeding a child. About a week ago, Nurussaba and her family left home in Myanmar, leaving behind everything, in fear of death. They used to run a grocery shop and their children used to go to school. Now they have left their country to survive. Going back home would be a nightmare.
Here in Bangladesh, even though they are living in this tiny, plastic tent – Nurussaba feels safe and content. She also gives shelter to Rehana, a girl who witnessed her parents being slaughtered by the army. Rehana cannot talk properly – the trauma has affected her speech.
Thousands are fleeing Myanmar every day, just as Nurussaba and Rehana. The camps in Bangladesh are growing and growing with people. Children, women, men, elderly who all need a regular supply of food and water, sanitation facilities, shelter, and treatment. Traumatized persons, many of them children, need immediate mental support and care. care.
Responding to insurgent attacks in Rakhine State, Myanmar forces have been burning down villages, raping women, killing people, children, women, men. The UN has branded the act as ethnic cleansing. Most of the Rohingyas are fleeing from their country to save their lives by walking fifty-sixty kilometers towards neighboring Bangladesh. Those who reach the border are arriving almost empty handed.
Mostafa with his mother.
Diakonia’s partner UTSA is a pioneer organization in psychosocial care in Bangladesh. Earlier UTSA has responded to different humanitarian crisis, for instance, the Rana Plaza tragedy, the Mirsarai tragedy, and the Rangamati landslide.
Now a team from UTSA together with volunteers are set to work in refugee camps in Ukhia to support the victims. The needs are enormous. UTSA will mostly work with children and women who need psychosocial care and counseling. During the next two years, UTSA will provide emergency water-sanitation kits, warm clothes, and tents for 1,500 households.
The sudden influx of Rohingyas took Bangladesh by surprise. At the beginning, the border was closed. Later, seeing the urge, on humanitarian ground, Bangladesh Prime Minister said: “Bangladesh is not a rich country … but if we can feed 160 million people, another 500 000 or 700 000 people, we can do it.”
The border is open and hundreds of people are coming almost every day. Since August 25th more than 500 000 people have come within less than two months. But soon the children will need space to play, will need to live in families that are not depending on aid workers.
I wonder why a country, with an area five times bigger, and a population less than one-third of Bangladesh, is not holding these people with love? A country where they have lived for four generations or more.
By: Khodeja (Lopa) Sultana, country manager Bangladesh
Read about Diakonia’s work in Bangladesh here.